Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Backhanded Gifts

A friend of mine, let's call her Fiona, and I were chatting yesterday. She's a first-time mother of a 12 week old. For Mother's Day her husband, we'll call him Shrek, gave her a weekend away in a nearby state (we're in the midwest, so it would be about a 4 hour drive from home).

Shrek's motivation? "I need to have you all to myself."

Poor Fiona said, "Whenever I think of leaving her for two nights, I feel like I'm going to vomit."

Shrek, along with other folks inside this situation, is making Fiona feel crazy for not wanting to leave her 12 week old baby for two nights. Other pertinent information - Fiona is breastfeeding, and Fiona works nearly full time and has to be away from her baby all week. She and Shrek can't afford for her to stay home, even though she wants to.

My reaction to all of the above was unprintable, because this is a family blog, but let's just say that there's also a finger to express the feelings I have toward Shrek right now.

Oh, how I remember those early days of motherhood. It is such a huge adjustment. And you don't want to be crazy. You don't want to be, already at 12 weeks in, that overprotective hovering mom. It's so easy to make a first-time mom question her choices, to make her feel like if she doesn't leave her baby with loving grandparents for two nights she's somehow doomed to be that "helicopter mom" at the playground who practically drowns her kid in Purell and makes him wear a helmet to go down the slide.

New moms are so vulnerable. They are under intense internal and external pressure to do everything right, even though they're doing something that they've never done before (raising a kid) and that they could never have imagined accurately pre-kids. It starts at birth - did you have a "natural" birth without drugs, an epidural, a c-section? Did you really need that c-section or are you "too posh to push"?

Hell, it starts before birth - are you eating 100% organic ice cream from happy cows raised in Vermont when you crave ice cream, or are you getting the cheap store brand? Vlassic pickles? Why not? Don't you want to give your baby the best???

Think I'm kidding? Read the diet section of the (extremely evil) book "What to Expect When You're Expecting." I'd quote it, but I burned my copy in effigy. It said something like, "You only get 9 short months to give your baby the best nutrition possible! So you must agonize over every bite of food that goes into your mouth. Are you SURE that what you're eating is the best?" Screw them, I just wanted watermelon, guacamole, and ice cream... Mary Grace had so much Mexican food in utero that I was concerned she'd be born saying, "Hola Mama! Como est ca?" or "S-O-C-K-S." Mmmmm... fajitas!

It never ends. My siblings and I are extremely close, and yet my brother has questioned some of my parenting choices. I gave my kids a bit of Diet Pepsi once when we were at my mom's (my sister and I were going to run to the store to get the organic, sugar free, juice made from apples hand picked by Oompa Loompas - we were on our way out the door, actually, but the kids were thirsty and Diet Pepsi was what was available. I figured a couple ounces wasn't likely to kill them or give them cancer). He asked me, if I recall correctly, if I was crazy. I told him that when he had kids he was free to let them drink Diet Pepsi, or not, as he saw fit.

We talked about it later (I wasn't mad, I've been doing this for 4-1/2 years if you include my pregnancy with MG, I'm used to it), and he said he was just surprised. I said, "It's not like I give them Diet Pepsi every day, or even every week, but they have pop occasionally for a treat." Moderation in all things, right? He assured me that he wasn't trying to be critical at the time, he was just genuinely surprised.

Now it's on the record, I give my kids diet soda sometimes. They also watch more than an hour of TV a day. And they eat fast food, too. And I don't always get the apples, sometimes I get them fries. BAD MOMMY!

Anyway, the trouble with being a first time mom is that you don't have any data to support your decisions. If I give Claire Diet Pepsi, and someone looks at me askance, I can point to Mary Grace and say, "Hey, I haven't killed her, yet, I must be doing something right!" But when you only have one, and your one is so little, and you're still questioning yourself at every turn, you are so vulnerable to criticism... It's really cruel of anyone, even the baby's father, especially the baby's father, to make the new mother feel nuts for anything - - unless she truly is nuts, like I was, and then you need to do whatever it takes to get her help. Of course, that didn't happen until MG was older...

Here is my point - if you're a new mommy and someone is trying to make you do something that you don't want to do, particularly if that thing causes a visceral reaction, as Fiona's thinking of leaving made her want to vomit:

Don't do it!

Have the self-confidence to put your foot down. You love your baby. You are doing what you feel is best. You are the only person who is going to have to live with the choices you make as a mother, so make sure that you're making you're own choices - not the choices dictated to you by others. Who wants to live with somebody else's choices?

You can't please everyone. If you breastfeed, someone is going to give you a dirty look for doing it in public. If you don't nurse in public, and instead you pump, the La Leche League is going to get all up in your grill about nipple confusion, if you feed formula, instead, all the boob nazis are going to come at you - even if you have the best of reasons for choosing formula (I've had friends who have been on life-saving medication and have had to feed formula because it was either take the medicine that would make the baby sick if she nursed while taking it, or die, and they still get given the business about nursing, and they still feel guilty deep down inside - that's just sick). Your every choice will be questioned and scrutinized, and someone will think you're making the wrong choice, no matter what. So don't listen to them - make your own (informed, rational, reasonable) choices.

Here's another little truism I decided to live by when Mary Grace was really little - only take advice from people whose children you would choose to live with. Think about it. If Sally Sunshine is telling you to do A, B, and C, but Sally's kids are hellions who make your blood pressure go up just thinking about them, why would you take Sally's advice? So your kids can turn out like hers? I don't think so! And the same goes for me - if you wouldn't want to live with my delightful, charming, beautiful, perfect children, don't listen to me, either.

So how do you deal with unwanted advice? How do you deal when your own family is questioning your parental choices? They should just hand out laminated cards in the hospital that look like this:
Just print that one out and put it in your wallet and use it, as needed.

That would make an awesome t-shirt. Hmmmm....

As for you, Shrek, you've had Fiona "all to yourself" for 10 years, and you'll have her "all to yourself" for the next 50. But this first year of your daughter's life is different, and fleeting, and you don't get her all to yourself for the next, oh, 280 days or so, ok? You're just going to have to be a grown up and cope.

Because I said so.


Cate said...

Thank goodness "Fiona" has you to support her and reassure her. Hearing that situation would have riled me all up too. I think you are dead-on right.

Julie M. from Novi, MI said...

Shrek is an idiot. When Katie was 12 weeks old I would barely leave her long enough to get my hair done. My own husband is an idiot, but at least he's not as big of an idiot as this Shrek idiot.

Excellent job, Amy.

Adelas said...

I sure hope that "Fiona" listens to you and is not overly pressured by her husband.

My own two cents about the particular situation: People were constantly telling me how laid back I was about my baby, all throughout the first year we had him - and yet I did not leave him overnight (or for more than 8 hours) until he was over a year old (he was off the breast at 10 months) and even THEN I was stressed about it.

Not to say that one way or the other is better, but just that it is so completely NORMAL to be
a) that attached to the baby that YOU don't want to miss him/her for that long and
b) anxious about leaving them.

LET ALONE the issues about breastfeeding and how she doesn't get to see her as much as she wants, anyway.

Dear Fiona, I hope you're able to stand firm. HUGS.

strwberrryjoy said...

Wow. That is awful. I would so be getting divorce papers ready. I'd rather move back in with my parents than live with an ass like Shrek. But I don't see this getting better. I see it getting worse.

Did you actually go a LLL where somebody got up in someone's grill about something? All of the meetings I have been to the leaders are incredibly calm and compassionate and know just what to say even when 2 moms might start getting "into" something. They are always quick to step in and keep things professional, but I know all groups are different...

Joshua Starr said...

I don't even know what to say about Shrek, other than what a dumba**. 12 weeks in? She's probably running on empty, completely exhausted, and still sore from the trauma of childbirth.

That's not even getting started on the implications this has with mom's relationship with her baby. Mom is baby's world, she provides warmth, shelter, milk, everything. A 12 week old is not at the age where he/she should be away from the mother for longer than a few hours -- what about the milk supply? It takes a lot of effort to get it started to begin with.

Shrek isn't the right word, Shrek is a good character. I think you mean his name is Lord Farquaad.

I fully expect my wife to let me know if something I suggest is utterly stupid.

RobMonroe said...

Amy - you know I agree with you. Heck, we have only had three Abby-less meals in two years.

However - I have to take issue with Joshua's comment. While you should not demand that a mother (or father, IMHO) spend a weekend away that quickly, you should not be quick to smack it down. My best friends were able to do just that, and it saved their sanity. They have good caregivers in their family and were available at a moments notice, but they needed it and it was right for them.

I am taking your post to mean that we should let parents do what they do, as long as what they are doing is not causing harm. I'm 100% behind that.

Tell Shrek that he should arrange fora nice weekend away for all three of them if he wants to get out of town. There is something great to be said for a change of scenery.

ChristieFaye said...

Well said. Shrek needs a clue. Or else a kick in the... well you know. I don't entirely blame him though. As a culture we have largely lost our understanding of the mother/baby connection and that's pretty sad. I'm rooting for Fiona as she finds her strength to trust her heart over the voices of those who just don't "get it." Watching a new mother grow into that role is a beautiful thing. Motherhood doesn't just change your life it deepens it and gives you new opportunities to blossom.

One beautiful thing about having six kids (as I do) is that there are very few people on the earth with the unmitigated gall to offer unsolicited parenting advice. Being able to respond to the few who dare with a withering glance and an "exCUSE me?" is the glorious payoff of years of doing one's own thing in spite of the critics.

Jen said...

I must be the minority here... at 3 months I would have paid good money for someone to arrange a weekend away for me and my husband to reconnect, sans screaming infant. Babies will live, believe it or not, without direct mommy intervention for 48 hours... and so will mommies. I guess the only way I'd feel differently would be if I didn't have competent help to keep the kids for a few days. Other than that, I think it's perfectly acceptable for a mom to take a little getaway with dad at 3 months.
Hmm. I guess I'm the weird one, but I do have to say despite my opinions on this topic, my kids are pretty well adjusted, and I know I have more patience and am able to be a better parent with some time away every now and then...

B.J. said...

I'll echo Rob's post: parents have to find what works for them, so long as it's not harmful to the child (and what that exactly entails can and often is a huge debate) or the parents' health. If the mother doesn't want to leave the baby for a couple of days, she shouldn't feel compelled to. If the mother would enjoy a weekend away every few months, it doesn't mean she is a bad parent.

Sure, you could take both to the extreme: never leaving your child's side for years on end or being gone so much that the child doesn't recognize you, neither of which is the situation here.

It does seem that the motivation is more selfish (his needs) than altruistic (her needs) so based on that it's kind of a lousy Mother's Day gift and probably a better request for a Father's Day gift.

That is, unless the husband's real motivation is "you desperately need a break but you are not going to take it if I say 'you need a break' so I'm going to say 'I need you all to myself' in order for it to happen." (I should state that I don't know the couple beyond acquaintances and am not suggesting this is the case - just looking to provide some alternate perspective.)

Amy said...

I'm loving the comments, folks!

Jen - let me clarify - I see nothing wrong with you and B. taking a weekend away if that's what you're both comfortable with. But if Shrek is trying to make Fiona feel guilty and crazy for not being there, yet, I have a big problem.

Personally, I wasn't ready to leave my kids overnight until they were well over one. I don't think that makes me a "better mother" than you - quite the opposite! You're one of the (few) moms whose advice I listen to, because your kids are delightful and I love them to bits. It just makes me different, and different is good!

I would imagine that most moms fall more toward the "not ready to leave at 12 weeks," side than toward the "sign me up, can we make it a week?" side, but that doesn't mean you're wrong.

As for LLL - it wasn't the group that bothered me. In fact, my LLL Leader, Jeni, was a godsend. It was only when I was ready (oh, was I READY) to wean at 28 months and I looked to them for support and instruction that I got mad. They made me feel guilty for wanting to wean at all, and suggested stupid shit like giving MG liver sticks in the middle of the night instead of letting her nurse. The Nursing Contingent was not at all helpful during that stressful time, and actually made me feel terrible, and I got very turned off from the group.

Fiona is reading your comments (and leaping to Shrek's defense!). I invited her to jump in.

And appropos to no particular comment, I just wish that we could all be more supportive of each other, regardless of our choices. We may not all do things exactly the same way, but each mom chooses her own path for her own good and valid reasons.

Love you all!

Amy said...

I'm sorry - the LLL GROUP didn't make me feel guilty for weaning - it was the LLL books. I wrote that comment in about four different stolen moments, and it was totally unclear.

Love my local LLL leader, hate the books. Carry on!

k8t said...

Just wanted to point at that Shrek sounds like he's a brand new dad, a bit clueless and thinking he's helping, and maybe even a bit lonely.

He'll get it, given support.

Those first 3 months were the worst and the best. I needed a weekend away, but couldn't have done it.

Patience and wisdom (and sleep) to Fiona and Shrek, and lots of hugs.

Charlotte said...

If Shrek is in fact trying to strong-arm Fiona into doing something she's not ready to and not just being a clueless-yet-well-meaning new dad, well then....Donkey needs to head over to the swamp and mule kick some sense into Shrek's backside.

Anonymous said...

2 things: 1) I agree with BJ - this sounds like a pretty selfish gift "I need this, so I'm giving it to you for your very first Mother's Day." perhaps an afternoon at the spa would have been more relaxing for Fiona...heck, even a couples afternoon at the spa so they could be together and Fiona could still be close to her babe. Anyway. #2 - Fiona, if you're having a visceral reaction to something - LISTEN TO YOURSELF! When we were thinking about moving Marc to a different "more convenient" daycare, I, too, wanted to throw up. Even though the new one would have taken the burden of all drop-offs and pick-ups and 1.5 hr Chicago commutes in 6 inches of snow off my shoulders, I wanted to barf when I thought about moving my 8 mo old away from the awesome caregivers he has. So I listened to my "irrational" self and decided I would continue to bear the burden of the "inconvenient" but truly awesome daycare. The nausea went away and I haven't looked back. Trust yourself.

F & S - you guys are both so new at this. Just try to listen to each other and support the other w/o any pressure or judgement. Good luck!

and good dialogue, Amy!

Heather said...

Hm - some of these comments did help me calm down and stop seeing Shrek as a complete and utter OGRE. He's as new at being a dad as Fiona is at being a mom, after all.

Still. I bonded SO hard to my daughter that it was months before I felt "right" if I wasn't in the same room with her. And two days of not nursing the breastfed baby is going to be agony on the mom's udders (at least, they feel like udders after awhile) and hell on her and the little monkey.

Shrek, sweetie - you were first in Fiona's life at one point, but that was BC - Before Child. Do not ask her to choose between you and an infant who needs her so completely, because you Will Not Win. I am willing to bet that you don't see a simple getaway weekend as such a monumental thing, but Fiona probably DOES. If you feel the need, you could go ahead and write this off as a chemical-hormone thing, but even IF you do that, you still will have to accept that the chemicals are stronger than you.

Offer her a weekend getaway some other time - say, when she acts like SHE wants/needs it - and for now, rub her feet and watch chick flicks with her.

Anonymous said...

I'm Fiona,
I don't work on Wednesdays so I didn't really look at the internet much.
My husband is not really an Ogre. He's just a man. He sees how tired and worn down I am, and he is and he thought, "I've got a great idea!!" He spoke to my mother...who is great with the baby, and she assured him that I would LOVE the gift. (Probably motivated by a selfish want to have the baby all to herself for the weekend) but it could honestly be that she just wanted to be helpful. She herself had taken a weekend trip when I was only 6 weeks old. She says, "You can do it!"
I think I'm going to just bring the munchkin with us. I don't know what else to do. Thinking about leaving her is hard enough, but then this week she's been REALLY a mommy's girl. I know she's too young for preference, but I have the milk, so she likes me best. It's simple.
Sometimes she works herself into such a fit that only I can calm her down. Mostly, I worry that while I'm gone this will happen and she won't have me there to help her.
That thought just breaks my heart and makes me think I'm just not ready to leave her for two whole nights. It's too much too soon...for me.

Thanks for all of your comments and concerns. They were very helpful when I was trying to make my husband see the light. :)